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New York Hosts Nancy Pelosi

October 9, 2013

By Martha Baker

Pelosi NY 100413

What a great feeling when a national leader comes to your city and congratulates you on winning paid sick days – and a reporter writes, “In New York, the issue of paid leave appears to be a winner.”

The New York Paid Leave Coalition and our partner groups worked with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office to organize an event October 4 highlighting the agenda developed by the Congressional Women’s Caucus. Along with A Better Balance, Center for Children’s Initiatives, Equal Pay Coalition, MomsRising, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, we helped surface the need and support for three issues: equal pay, paid family leave, and child care.

Hunter College hosted the event and its President, Jennifer Raab, welcomed the audience – a standing-room only crowd of more than 200. Pelosi was joined on stage by Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velazquez. Celebrating them in the front row were Councilmembers Gale Brewer and Letitia James, who recently won the Democratic nominations for Manhattan borough president and public advocate, respectively, and State Senator Gustavo Rivera.

Also present were leaders of organizations that advocate for women and families, donors and foundation officers, activists and students, and local elected officials.  Ana Oliveira, President of the New York Women’s Foundation, served as emcee.   The event received extensive press coverage and was live-streamed.

Leader Pelosi opened the program describing the Economic Agenda for Women and Families.  With strong support of the Congresswomen present, as well as Rep. Nita Lowey and others, she’s begun a barnstorming tour to bring the information to activists on the ground.  She thanked the assembled for the work we do everyday.

Unleashing the Power of Women

“The strength of our country depends on the economic security of America’s women and families,” said Leader Pelosi. “By enacting a policy that ensures equal pay, promotes work and family balance, and provides affordable child care, we will unleash the power of America’s women and help guarantee that future generations will enjoy our country’s promise of equal rights, equal treatment, and equal opportunity. This agenda will reaffirm that when women succeed, America succeeds.”

The Congresswomen each responded to a New York woman who shared her experience with one of these issues. The first speaker was business leader Cynthia DiBartolo, who told of her lengthy bout with cancer and intensive speech therapy as she relearned how to eat, swallow and speak.  Because of her father’s access to FMLA and paid leave, he was able to be her caregiver. Referring to the need for paid family leave, Cynthia said, “The health of our economy depends on the health of our working families – and the health of our working families depends on this legislation, so a caregiver is able to take time to nurse a family member back to health.” Cynthia is working with the New York Paid Leave Coalition to increase business support for a state Family Leave Insurance bill.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez described small business, and entrepreneurship as fuel for the economy.  She and Cynthia both related this agenda to the bottom line — it’s good business to value employees and build a loyal workforce by providing paid family leave.

Armanda Legros talked about the discrimination she experienced on her job when she was pregnant.”It’s no wonder that women make so much less than men for doing the same job,” she said. “Men can’t get pregnant, so they don’t have to worry about being pushed out of work and losing wages to support their families for months at a time.” As the family breadwinner, Armanda lost her employment and her health benefits during her pregnancy until she received support and legal assistance from A Better Balance.  She is now back at work.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney spoke about the importance of access to equal pay, light duty during pregnancy where needed, and the ERA.  She connected the dots: a lifetime earning lower income means far less money for retirement.

“We’re Going to Do Something About It”

The third presenter was Susana Ramos, a mother of six, whose life changed when her youngest child was able to enter a Head Start program in her neighborhood.  Not only did her child learn and grow, but so did she.  The Center for Children’s Initiatives, working with the Children’s Aid Society, identified her needs and offered her opportunities to help herself and her children.

“Before Head Start I did not know how parents can have a voice in their children’s education,” Susana said. “I am now meeting families that have similar goals as mine, to get an education, to work and help my children succeed and go to college.”  She’s now the President of the Parent Advisory Council of the Children’s Aid Society with hopes of becoming a Head Start teacher.

Leader Pelosi told similar stories from women she had met at events around the country – women who have to send a child to school sick because of low pay and lack of paid sick days and inadequate access to child care. “Can you just imagine the anguish for that mom, who can’t afford to stay home, can’t afford quality health care, on the margins, probably making the minimum wage?” she said. “It’s just not right, in the greatest country that ever existed on the face of the earth. And we are going to do something about it.”

The visit went by in a whirl as the Congressional leaders had to get back to DC to try to deal with the government shutdown. But it strengthened our efforts to win the Family Leave Insurance bill, Pregnancy Disability Act and Equal Pay legislation here in New York state.

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